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  1. Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October Key points: Prime Minister says it has been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines to Australia He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation's COVID-19 response The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday. However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April. Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks. "The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor," he said "In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000." Australia's vaccination figures as of March 12.(Supplied: Australian Government) Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues. Look back on all the coronavirus news from Sunday in our blog. Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could "churn out" more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned. "We have lots of people who want to give more vaccines … the critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply," he said. Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was "not counting on that in our vaccination strategy". Vaccination time line could change Professor Murphy said he was "pretty confident" most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year. However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward. Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met. The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change. "Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal," he said. "Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we're talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules." Extra money for COVID-19 support Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation's COVID-19 response. It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks. The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services. The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Stopping the spread of misinformation In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, "Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?". However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation. Additional questions will be continually added to the website. Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. "Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook where everyone has an opinion but no-one has responsibility," he said. Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia. "Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia," he said. Source: Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October
  2. Facebook to reverse Australia news ban after lawmakers alter bill Australian Facebook users' News Feeds can once again have actual news in them. Enlarge / Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017. Jason Doiy | Getty Images Facebook has apparently emerged victorious from its standoff with the entire nation of Australia, as lawmakers in that country have agreed to amend a proposed law that would have required Facebook to pay publishers for news content linked on its platform. The social networking giant last week banned all news posts both in and from Australia to protest a bill under discussion in Parliament. Users inside Australia became unable to share news links of any kind from any source, and users outside Australia became unable to share links from Australian media. Facebook at the time argued that the proposed law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content." Facebook's ban turned out to be an extremely blunt instrument, blocking sharing not only of news inside Australia but also of public communications from the government, pages for nonprofit organizations and charities, and other Australian organizations that tried to share links to off-Facebook sites. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison blasted Facebook over the ban, saying last week, "We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code." The government, however, appears to have blinked first, and the Morrison administration is now offering several amendments to the bill, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said this week. What’s changing? As originally drafted, the bill would require "digital platform corporations" to negotiate in good faith with news outlets ("registered news business corporations") to link to their content. If the outlets and the platforms can't reach a deal on their own, they would immediately have to take the dispute into baseball-style arbitration, where a neutral third-party arbitrator looks at both offers on the table and decides which is the better one. The definition of "digital platform corporations" in the bill is crafted such that it would at first apply to only two companies—Google and Facebook, both of which vehemently oppose the proposed law. The new amendments tweak some provisions of the bills to give platforms a little more breathing room—and basically give both firms a way to buy their way out of the regulation. Google in January also threatened to leave Australia entirely over the bill, but this month it began reaching deals with Australian media instead. The amended bill would explicitly take those kinds of deals into consideration: "A decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses." Facebook has already reached one such deal with Australian news firm Seven West Media, the companies said Tuesday. The amendments would also extend the notice period from the government to a corporation before it becomes designated under the law and would create a mediation/negotiation window for publishers and platforms to hash out their own payment schemes before going to arbitration. The amendments "add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations outside the Code—a central feature of the framework that the Government is putting in place to foster more sustainable public interest journalism in Australia," Frydenberg said. Full Facebook service is not yet restored in Australia as of publication time but will be "in the coming days," company executive Campbell Brown said. "It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world," Brown added. "We’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook." Facebook to reverse Australia news ban after lawmakers alter bill
  3. Facebook news ban is “arrogant,” Australia will not be “intimidated,” PM says Deploying a blunt instrument on a whole nation is going just as well as you'd guess. Enlarge / News is still very much happening both around the world and in Australia... but you wouldn't know it if you're one of the tens of millions of Australian Facebook users. Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images A long-simmering battle between tech firms and the government of Australia became explosive yesterday when Facebook announced that it would block all linking of news publications inside the country. Not only has this change affected Australian and international news publishers, but Facebook's wide net has also caught up governments, nonprofits, and basically anyone else in Australia who posts non-news content to the platform. Australian lawmakers have been considering a bill that would require Internet platforms such as Google and Facebook ("digital platform corporations") to negotiate in good faith with news outlets ("registered news business corporations") to link to their content. If the outlets and the platforms can't reach a deal on their own, they would have to go to baseball-style arbitration, where a neutral third-party arbitrator would decide whose offer is the better one. The bill would at first apply to only two companies: Google and Facebook. Both, as you might expect, have expressed consistent opposition to the bill. (Microsoft, operator of remote second-place search engine Bing—which captures between 2 and 3 percent of the market—does not oppose the rules that would apply to its largest competitor.) After months of complaint, Facebook took the nuclear option on Wednesday, blocking all Australian users from sharing links either from Australian or international sources and blocking everyone else in the world from sharing any links to any Australian news sources. At a high level, the dispute is not unlike the cable blackouts US consumers are all too used to experiencing. When two parties can't agree, each one points the finger at the other and tells consumers to blame the other guy for the inconvenience. Meanwhile, consumers are stuck in the middle, facing all the harm. And when the fight is between the world's largest online platforms and an entire country, the stakes are high. Apparently everything is “news” Facebook's universal block turned out to be as blunt an instrument as you could imagine, and for several hours Wednesday it blocked basically all links from being shared in Australia. The ban hit not only news outlets but also a wide range of other websites and organizations inside Australia. City, state, and national government pages, including departments of health that communicate with the public about the pandemic and weather services that warn about fire hazards, were blocked for several hours before being restored. Facebook even suspended its own page for a while. Nonprofits were also affected, according to Bloomberg News. Pages for food banks, domestic violence shelters, the Australia Council of Trade Unions, and a wildlife preservation group were all caught up in the ban, as well as pages for some politicians and emergency services departments. "Government Pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement," a Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg. "As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted." “Arrogant and disappointing” Facebook's actions were "as arrogant as they were disappointing," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in—of course—a Facebook post. "These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. "We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament" as the bill heads to a vote, Morrison added. "I encourage Facebook to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith." Google in January threatened to exit Australia rather than pay to link to news content. Earlier this week, however, Google made a deal with News Corp—media mogul Richard Murdoch's international company—to pay "significant" sums for access to News Corp's US, UK, and Australian news outlets. Australian news outlets—the entities the bill is theoretically designed to boost and protect—were similarly displeased. "Despite key issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic having ongoing effects on all Australians, Facebook has today removed important and credible news and information sources from its Australian platform," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s managing director said in a written statement. "We will continue our discussions with Facebook today following this development." The NT News, a regional paper, was more blunt. The cover for its Thursday issue reads: "FEBRUARY 18, 2021. THE DAY FACEBOOK WENT TO WAR WITH AUSTRALIA." Facebook news ban is “arrogant,” Australia will not be “intimidated,” PM says
  4. Big Tech opens wallet for publishers as Australian news code looms Google and Facebook strike deals in effort to stymie rules on paying for content. Enlarge / Close-up photography John Lamb | Getty Images Google and Facebook are rushing to agree to deals with Australian publishers, offering them the most generous licensing terms in the world in an attempt to persuade Canberra not to apply rules forcing tech groups to pay for news. MPs began debating legislation on Wednesday to enact the news media bargaining code, which the EU, UK, and Canada are considering as a model for similar regulations to support publishers in their own jurisdictions. While Google has multi-million-dollar licensing deals with publishers in almost a dozen countries, people involved in negotiations told the Financial Times the sums now under discussion in Australia were “multiple times” the size of those agreements. The developments in Australia are being closely watched in Europe and the US for evidence the tougher approach will reset the balance between publishers and tech platforms. Among the code’s features is an arbitration system that would make binding decisions on the fees Facebook and Google would have to pay news providers if commercial negotiations fail. Google signed a letter of intent on Wednesday with Nine Entertainment, one of Australia’s largest media groups, that outlines a draft agreement to use content from its newspaper, television, and Internet assets, according to a person directly familiar with the deal. The tech group said on Wednesday it had also struck a deal with Junkee Media to curate the small online publisher’s content on its recently launched News Showcase service. Those followed a similar agreement Monday with Seven West Media, a group with TV, newspaper, and digital assets that is reported by Australian media to be worth A$10m to A$30m ($7.7 million to $23 million) per year. By comparison, Google’s recent framework agreement in France with more than 100 publishers is worth about €22 million ($26.5 million) a year in total, according to people familiar with the deal. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Google are also in talks over a potential global content deal, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. Experts said the tie-ups reflected Google’s desire to ensure Canberra did not apply the toughest elements of the code to its core search function, which the US group has warned it could be forced to close down in Australia. “Google is desperate to not pay for news delivered through their search engine. It looks like they are paying over and above market value to secure deals that specifically exclude Google Search,” said James Meese, a lecturer in communications at RMIT University in Melbourne. Canberra and Google could be coming to some sort of a “tacit agreement,” he added, whereby the government would not apply the code to the tech giant’s search function if it signed enough deals with publishers. Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s treasurer, said none of the commercial deals would have been struck without the code, which had ushered in a “historic moment” for news businesses. The legislation would be enacted through parliament but the government would decide if it was enforced against Google’s search service or Facebook, he said. “With respect to the designation of Google Search or Facebook, they are decisions that I would make after receiving the advice” of Australia’s competition regulator, he told Sky. “But if there are commercial deals in place then that becomes a different equation for me.” Google and Facebook have not released details on how much its deals with publishers are worth, but they are not expected to reach the AU$1 billion a year that News Corp signaled the tech groups owed Australian media owners. Google last year pledged $1 billion over three years to pay global publishers and has said it reached terms with 450 “news partners.” Facebook has made less progress in signing deals with publishers, although it remains in negotiations, said people directly familiar with the matter. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Nine-owned newspaper that first reported the draft deal between Google and its parent, said it would be worth more than AU$30 million a year. Additional reporting by Richard Waters in San Francisco and Alex Barker in London. Big Tech opens wallet for publishers as Australian news code looms
  5. Optus throws down 5G gauntlet, claims fastest speeds in Australia Optus outguns Telstra in 5G download speed, study suggests (Image credit: DenPhotos/Shutterstock) Telstra definitively laid claim to having the widest-ranging 5G network last month, but now Optus has thrown down a gauntlet of its own by claiming to have the fastest 5G speeds in Australia. A report by telecommunications company Systemics-PAB found that Optus’ average 5G download speed was 22% faster than Telstra’s during independent testing that was conducted across Sydney and Melbourne late last year. While Optus outgunned Telstra in download speed tests, it was found that Telstra was better than Optus when it came to 5G average upload throughputs – though only marginally so with a difference of less than 10%. Following the release of the findings, Optus’ managing director, Matt Williams, released a statement which appears to call out Telstra in all but name. In the blog post, Williams requested “one carrier to formally remove their 5G advertising claiming ‘Australia’s best 5G’”. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” says Williams, “you can’t claim to have Australia’s best 5G network if it’s not the fastest”. He went on to say that, “For Optus, this isn’t about stripping our competitor of their self-declared title – this is about being transparent with the Australian consumer, ensuring that they get access to all the facts”. At the time of writing, Telstra’s website still includes the statement: “Australia’s best 5G. Now covering 50% of Australians.” Who has Australia's best 5G? Australia’s two major telcos are still locked in a back and forth over who has the better 5G network, but perhaps inevitably, the answer to who has the best 5G network in Australia lies in what is most important to you. Telstra’s 5G network is available in more locations than Optus, and after announcing that its network now reaches more than 50% of Australians last month, it has aggressive plans to reach 75% of Australians by the end of June this year. While Systemics-PAB concluded that Telstra has the top 5G network when it comes to coverage, it highlighted that for those wanting top download speeds and the lowest possible latency, Optus is the fastest network available – if it’s available in your area. To check availability in your area, compare Telstra’s 5G coverage map with the Optus 5G network map. Optus throws down 5G gauntlet, claims fastest speeds in Australia
  6. Google starts paying Australian publishers under its News Showcase program Google suspended in October of last year the launch of its News Showcase program in Australia amid regulatory hurdles in the country. News Showcase was introduced last year in an effort to pay publishers whose articles are curated for story panels across Google's services. However, Australia was removed from its list after the country's antitrust regulators demanded that the search giant pay royalties to all publishers for their content. Today, Google announced that it is finally launching an initial version of News Showcase in Australia. The company said the licensing program focuses on the "leading regional and independent publishers". The first batch of publishers to receive monthly royalties starting today includes those who joined the program's maiden global launch last year. These are The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, The New Daily, InDaily, and The Conversation. The royalties are for publishers who curate their articles or give access to their paywalled content in hopes of growing their readership. Curated articles under News Showcase will show up on story panels, which will be visible on Google News for Android, iOS and the mobile web as well as in Discover on iOS. The articles will also have an improved view and publishers will gain more insights into what type of content piques the interest of their readers the most. In the future, Google will roll out News Showcase to Search and other platforms where News and Discover are available. Readers who tap on news articles in a story panel will be redirected to the publisher's direct web page. Google plans to enlist more publishers in Australia to the program over the next few months. Google starts paying Australian publishers under its News Showcase program
  7. Privacy Act review to examine privacy tort, direct action rights, and GDPR compliance The Attorney-General's Department will look at carve-outs, harmonisation with states and other nations, and a right to erase for Australians. Australia's Attorney-General Christian Porter announced on Friday the terms of reference and issues paper that his department will use as a basis for its review of the Privacy Act. The wide-ranging review will consider the definition of personal information; whether existing exemptions for small businesses, political parties, and the storing of employee records to comply with the Act should remain; whether individuals should gain the power to drag privacy violators to court; and whether a privacy tort should be created. The review was agreed to as part of the Commonwealth's response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry. In posing 67 questions for submissions to respond to, the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) has asked whether the definition of personal information should be extended to inferred personal information as well as whether additional protections should be extended to de-identified, anonymised, and pseudonymised information. Of particular interest in the paper was the failure of Australian privacy laws to be compatible with those in Europe, especially the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with exemptions created in the Australian law two decades ago being a roadblock. "The [Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC)] noted that no other comparable jurisdiction (the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union) exempts small businesses from the general privacy law," the paper said. "The Senate Committee inquiry further recommended the removal of the exemption given the privacy regimes in overseas jurisdictions have operated effectively without a small business exemption and that the existence of the exemption was one of the key outstanding issues preventing Australia from seeking adequacy with the EU. "[The ALRC] also noted that the United Kingdom does not exempt employee records and that removing the exemption may facilitate recognition of the adequacy of Australian privacy law by the EU." On the flip side, the paper pointed out that only UK and Germany were in Australia's top 15 two-way trading partners while other economies around the Asia-Pacific made up 72% of trade. The EU only accounted for 13.5%. "As less trade is undertaken with the EU than within the APEC region, the government's recent priority has been to ensure adequate privacy protections within and between APEC economies," the AGD said. "Requiring businesses to comply with different information handling requirements under the Act, [Cross-Border Privacy Rules] and GDPR could result in a regulatory landscape that is overly complex. On the other hand, compliance with the GDPR may give businesses a competitive advantage in engendering consumer trust." Currently in Australia, if a business has revenue under AU$3 million, it is exempt from the Act, and the paper wrestled with the idea of whether a threshold should remain, and if so, what should it be since businesses under that threshold could handle sensitive personal information yet maintaining the threshold could increase compliance costs for those businesses. Leaning on the ACCC's recommendations, the paper raised the prospect of requiring organisations requesting personal data to implement defaults to make collection of information opt-in. It also asked whether individuals should be made to consent for each purpose and time their information is collected and whether the core concept of consent was effective. The paper also asked whether there should be higher requirements to destroy or de-identify personal information that is held by organisations and whether Australia should have a "right to erasure", which would be an analogue to Europe's right to be forgotten. The potential of handing Australians the power to initiate court action to seek compensation from privacy breaches was also raised -- Australians currently can only directly apply for an injunction -- and questions on how to stop the courts being filled with actions over "trivial breaches", such as funnelling complaints via the Office of the Information Commissioner for conciliation or capping damages, were also asked. The paper also discussed the idea of whether a statutory tort of privacy was needed, with the AGD saying it would allow for privacy breaches not covered by the Privacy Act to be caught, but also that recent criminal legislation may lower the need for such a tort. "A key issue for the design of a statutory tort of privacy is the types of liability it would cover. That is, liability based on intention, liability based on negligence or strict liability," the AGD said. "The ALRC recommended that a statutory tort should be confined to intentional or reckless invasions of privacy and should not extend to negligent invasions of privacy or attract strict liability. However, it is questionable that an invasion of privacy due to gross negligence where a person may not have been reckless but failed to exercise even the slightest degree of care and diligence in relation to an obvious risk should be outside scope." The terms of reference also stated the review would not look into any changes to the Privacy Act that were made to cater for the government's COVIDSafe app, nor recent changes made to credit reporting. Submissions to the review have a deadline of November 29, with a discussion paper set to appear early next year. A date for the final report was not specified. "Australians are spending more and more of their time online and more of their personal information is being collected, handled and stored," Porter said. "Technology is also rapidly evolving in areas such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, which is why it is crucial that we have a privacy regime that is fit for purpose, can grow trust, empower consumers, and support the growing digital economy." The review will also examine the effectiveness of the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme. "The NDB Scheme commenced on 22 February 2018. There are therefore some difficulties in determining at this stage whether the scheme has achieved its long term objectives," the AGD said. Source: Privacy Act review to examine privacy tort, direct action rights, and GDPR compliance
  8. Says changes would allow, as one example, the department to impose conditions relating to the use of entities in the supply chain. Under Australia's Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR), all carriers and nominated carriage service providers (C/NCSPs) are required to notify the Communications Access Coordinator (CAC) of proposed changes to their telecommunications systems or services if they become aware of any proposed changes that are likely to have a "material adverse effect" on their capacity to comply with security obligations. As of 30 June 2020, the Department of Home Affairs has received a total of 66 notifications. It told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) the notifications received from carriers to date represented the vast majority of the fixed-line and mobile telecommunications market in Australia. In its submission [PDF] to the PJCIS, Home Affairs suggested additional types of notices "with more nuanced language" to reflect various levels and types of risk and the urgency of adopting further mitigations. "Home Affairs notes that there has been some variation among C/NCSPs in their approach to the TSSR notification obligation. The obligation relies on self-determination by C/NCSPs of whether a proposed change warrants a notification, regardless of the guidance provided by Home Affairs," it wrote. "There have been instances where Home Affairs has engaged with a carrier about a proposed change to their networks and subsequently recommended that the carrier submit a notification as it was Home Affairs' view that the features and characteristics of the proposed change introduced significant risk." Despite Home Affairs' recommendations to these carriers, the department said they did not proceed to submit a formal notification, as in the carrier's view, the proposed changes to their networks or facilities did not meet the carrier's internal risk assessment thresholds for formal notification. "In the absence of a notification, government has no visibility of changes to networks or steps taken to mitigate risks and cannot provide advice," Home Affairs said. The PJCIS is currently conducting a statutory review of the operation of Part 14 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to the extent that it was amended by the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 TSSR. The reforms passed in September 2017 and commenced exactly one year later, which established a regulatory framework for managing the national security risks of Australia's telecommunications networks and facilities. Home Affairs said telecommunications networks and facilities, and the carriers and CSPs that own or operate them, are attractive targets for espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference activity by state and non-state actors. "TSSR is a principles-based framework that formalises the good faith engagement between Home Affairs and Australia's telecommunications sector to better manage national security risks to telecommunications networks," the department says. The TSSR introduced four key elements: Security obligation, notification obligation, information gathering power, and a directions power. Home Affairs said amending the Act to allow it to request notification about a proposed change, including in circumstances where a C/NCSP has internally determined that it need not notify, would ensure that any changes to telecommunications networks and systems do not introduce national security risks. Amending the Act to give Home Affairs the ability to impose conditions, including conditions relating to the use of entities in the supply chain, or require a C/NCSP to take specific action would help to mitigate identified risks with a proposed change, the department said. It explained this would ensure the conditions or mitigations are implemented and appropriate for the lifecycle of the change. In making this statement, the department noted amendments to include a formal mechanism that requires the C/NCSP to continue to engage with Home Affairs after conditions or mitigations have been imposed. The department also flagged the requirement for C/NCSPs to have in place a security capability plan that can demonstrate they are meeting their baseline security requirements as another potential TSSR enhancement. This is tackled in the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, which seeks to amend the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 to implement "an enhanced framework to uplift the security and resilience of Australia's critical infrastructure". "Noting that telecommunications remains a key sector of critical infrastructure, the [positive security obligation (PSO)], if applied to the telecommunications sector … could replace the current security capability plan provision," Home Affairs said. Further enhancements were listed under the directions powers, which grants the Minister for Home Affairs the power to issue a written direction to a C/CSP not to use or supply, or to cease using or supplying, a carriage service if, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the minister considers the proposed use or supply of the carriage service is or would be prejudicial to security. "The directions powers are considered to be appropriate last resort mechanisms. However, the graduated powers that will be available under the [Protecting Critical Infrastructure and Systems of National Significance] reforms, should they be passed by Parliament, would assist to provide options for government to address risks that are of a lower order," it said. "Graduated powers being designed under the … reforms could extend the positive security obligation that includes risk management planning obligations which would allow government to indicate where telecommunications entities may need to take steps to address risks in their supply chains without resorting to the directions power." Telstra used its submission [PDF] to the PJCIS to highlight its support of the use of the existing TSSR framework and that it believes there will be significant benefits in using it to meet the government's objectives of strengthening the existing security of critical infrastructure framework. It asked for the informal engagement model to be legislated into the TSSR and that formal notifications be used as a last resort mechanism where entities fail to engage with government. Telstra also recommended that the information gathering and direction powers under the TSSR remain in place and be carried into the sector-specific rules under the proposed Critical Infrastructure and Systems of National Significance reforms. "Whilst this regime has not been tested, the safeguards and guardrails were heavily negotiated during the TSSR implementation and should remain," the telco said. Global cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks also submitted [PDF] its opinion to the committee, asking the PJCIS look at ways to "encourage and incentify ISPs and telcos to maintain constant real-time visibility across traffic passing through their networks and be able to detect and stop cybersecurity threats in real time within that traffic for all customers". It also noted the merits of adopting a clean pipes solution to protect the nation from cyber threats and make it a less attractive target to adversaries. Source
  9. Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact-tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found. The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.” But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.” Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.” The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date. For some, fears that a government spy agency could access COVID-19 contact-tracing data was the worst possible outcome. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries — and states in places like the U.S. — have rushed to build contact-tracing apps to help prevent the spread of the virus. But these apps vary wildly in terms of functionality and privacy. Most have adopted the more privacy-friendly approach of using Bluetooth to trace people with the virus with which you may have come into contact. Many have chosen to implement the Apple-Google system, which hundreds of academics have backed. But others, like Israel and Pakistan, are using more privacy-invasive techniques, like tracking location data, which governments can also use to monitor a person’s whereabouts. In Israel’s case, the tracking was so controversial that the courts shut it down. Australia’s intelligence watchdog did not say specifically what data was collected by the spy agencies. The app uses Bluetooth and not location data, but the app requires the user to upload some personal information — like their name, age, postal code and phone number — to allow the government’s health department to contact those who may have come into contact with an infected person. Australia has seen more than 27,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Source
  10. Can a balance be struck between the privacy of citizens and allowing health officials to access any piece of information for helping to track down a cluster of coronavirus cases? This piece comes to you from the mostly coronavirus-free shores of Australia. But the virus is still not eliminated; various places can have an extended run of virus-free days, which can then turn into weeks and months, before the virus suddenly comes back. There is no better example of this than the reemergence of COVID-19 in New Zealand back in August, after the nation went 100 days without the virus and was widely considered to have eliminated it. At the time of writing, South Australia just left lockdown after a surge in cases, despite the state shutting its borders to places such as New South Wales and Victoria, and only having handfuls of cases reported each day, if any were reported at all, since April. According to the recent National Contact Tracing Review [PDF], the takeaway lesson from 2020 is to throw the kitchen sink at outbreaks when they appear. "In the event of an outbreak, every effort should be made to go hard and go early," the review said. The way to suppress a surge in cases is to make sure those with the virus can have their recent close contacts traced, thereby getting those identified into quarantine and tested. This is in the hopes that the virus can be prevented from spreading further into the community. Key to all of this is having quick access to data. For contact tracers, the first stop is asking people where they have been, but as we all know, the human mind is far from perfect. And this is before even considering the task of identifying random people who happened to be in a venue with a positive case. Enter initiatives such as Australia's COVIDSafe app, which has been far from successful and only identified a small number of unique cases. The app that was touted at its introduction as being akin to sunscreen has since been relegated to double-checking duties. "There is scarce evidence on the effectiveness of digital or automated contact tracing," the report said. Along with the app, Australia has also pushed venues to install check-in processes in response to various parts of the country reopening. This usually takes the form of a QR code and requires filling in an online form with details such as name and phone number, with pen and paper used a backup. If state governments from the get-go had the check-in systems in place that they have now, it could have been possible to have a centralised data store for check-in data, but that was not to be. As it stands, a bunch of private organisations have rushed in to fill the void. "In addition to the disadvantage of not having a centralised database for contact tracers to interrogate the data, many of these apps are requesting unnecessary information from customers that adds significantly to the time taken to register, and is sometimes used for marketing purposes," the report said. "Further, because of the multiplicity of applications, customers find themselves entering the same information repeatedly if they visit different venues. These repetitive and in some cases unnecessary burdens on customers are likely to result in lower overall compliance with attendance recording." It needs little repeating but 2020 is a weird year. Last year, if the prospect of a centralised attendance database run by a government was put before me, I'd have yelled the words "Big Brother", "surveillance state", and probably a few other choice phrases. And yet, as the year ends, I have more faith that my state government will not flog my data to the highest bidder and has created some form of requirement to actually delete the data when it is not needed anymore. Getting more specific than throwing the kitchen sink, the review also recommended for states to have a single app for check-ins, or failing that, that all such apps adhere to a common standard. At this stage, it needs pointing out that in Australia the data retention regime ensures the nation's law enforcement agencies have easy access to which phones are on what mobile tower, so I am not doing a something compared to nothing comparison when I talk about attendance databases. It's a more granular form of data than what the government had access to last year, and at any rate, Google knows where I am. If I wanted to opt out of needing to check in at places like cafes and restaurants, there is a simple solution, of course. Don't go. Get take away instead. In trying to solve that problem, since even getting takeaway might expose you to the virus, the contact tracing review proposed something that would make check-in databases look like small fry. "The Commonwealth should lead the development of arrangements between states and territories and payment card providers so that contact tracers from the states and territories will be able to request contact details of persons who have made a transaction at a hotspot venue, noting that privacy rules will apply and in some jurisdictions legislative change may be required," the report said. Thanks to Australia having a modern payment backbone, access to which cards were used at which venues is a quick API call or two away -- and the payments would be based on cards since the use of cash has plummeted in the days of COVID and there are little signs of its use bouncing back. Not yet done with raising privacy questions, the review also recommended looking into a way to download information from smartphones that could help contact tracers. As is standard, the review said it should be based on citizen consent, and as any privacy-minded person would tell you, authorities have absolutely, positively never bluffed or misinformed their way to get into a person's home, nor have they convinced someone to hand over a phone when they didn't want to. Is it outrageous that payment data and smartphones would be taken to get information into the contact tracing systems that the review proposes? Yes. But we are also talking about a virus that, despite what some may choose to believe, is fatal. If a knife-wielding assailant had been running around town since March, randomly stabbing a couple of people a day, and part of the solution to stopping them was to examine payment data, it would be brave privacy absolutist that stood in the way of that action. But that is the sort of vexed question of balance that now faces nations as they battle with the virus until a vaccine is hopefully rolled out. Magical thinking that some sort of automated dream system could be used was dismissed in the report. In a system where the stakes are this high, the option for humans to eyeball the data is essential, it said. "Importantly, whilst a fully digital contact tracing system can dramatically improve the efficiency of contact tracing, it will never replace the need for well-trained contact tracers and expert public health oversight," the report stated. Similarly, even if the sort of data exchange desired by the report's authors was created -- one where data is not stored in the exchange and quickly pulls from disparate sources spread across all levels of government from airline passenger manifests to vaccination statuses, all the while simultaneously preserving as much privacy as possible -- there are no guarantees it would work. In fact, the opposite is more likely. "Even with the best systems in place, outbreaks are likely to be unavoidable," the report said. Trying to find the balance between wanting to clamp down on outbreaks as quickly as possible and preserving individual freedoms is and has been a job that looks different for every society: China and its door-welding approach has sat on one extreme while the individual-centric United States has been on the other. It's tempting to think the measures taken would be temporary, and therefore unquestionably necessary, in the current situation of fighting the fight in front of us. But with parts of the Australian government apparatus stating last week that they are expecting other zoonotic pandemics to follow in the wake of COVID-19, the balances that are struck will be with us for some time. Adding to that, Australia is without any sort of human rights charter, a lone title among western democracies. Instead, it seems to operate on the famous Denuto vibe argument. "Australians do have a lack of understanding of the rights framework within Australia. They do think we have rights protected that we don't have protected," Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright told the National Press Club said on Wednesday. "Australians also, the data shows, are quite compliant to regulation. Australians like being regulated. They like rules and [when] something goes wrong, they say 'there ought to be a law against that' -- and that is the way Australians behave." Wright added that so far in the pandemic, it's no surprise that Australians have been "fairly compliant". "I think that we, in some ways, we can be proud of that because people who have been behaving as a collective and saying we want to protect other Australians and ourselves against this disease, so we will do this," she added. "But that social compact will break down if the government takes it too far -- it will break down. At the moment, it hasn't, -- apart from certain pockets." Wright used the opportunity to argue for human rights legislation at the national level. As a first step, it would simply be nice if governments will tear down the apparatuses built since the start of the year when they are no longer needed. But if past form is any indicator, the omens are not good. Source
  11. It is worried about the potential overstepping that could occur if the government is able to provide assistance to entities in response to significant cyber attacks on Australian systems. The federal government recently closed consultation on a package of reforms focused on protecting critical infrastructure and systems of national significance. With that part of the process wrapped up, the government is now looking to introduce an enhanced regulatory framework, which would build on existing requirements under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018. This includes: A positive security obligation (PSO) for critical infrastructure entities, supported by sector-specific requirements; enhanced cybersecurity obligations for those entities most important to the nation; and government assistance to entities in response to significant cyber attacks on Australian systems. With the definition of what constitutes critical infrastructure and systems of national significance not yet fully defined, the federal government is seeking to determine who the enhanced framework would apply to, with one proposed sector covering data storage and cloud. Amazon Web Services (AWS) said that while it was broadly supportive of the proposal to expand the regime to include the data and cloud sector, the expansion raises questions such as what service providers should be included in the sector, what security standards should apply, and how the government can prevent over-regulation. In its submission [PDF] to the consultation, the cloud giant also raised concerns that the proposal for government "assistance" or "intervention" powers could give it overly broad powers to issue directions or act autonomously. AWS said the breadth of the newly regulated critical infrastructure sectors, coupled with seemingly broad powers described in the consultation paper [PDF], raised many issues and unknowns. The consultation paper said the government assistance would be provided to entities that are the target or victim of a cyber attack through the establishment of a government capability and authorities to disrupt and respond to threats in an emergency. "Critical infrastructure entities may face situations where there is an imminent cyber threat or incident that could significantly impact Australia's economy, security or sovereignty, and the threat is within their capacity to address. In these cases, we propose that government be able to provide reasonable, proportionate and time-sensitive directions to entities to ensure action is taken to minimise its impact," the government wrote. AWS is concerned that there isn't clarity around whether the triggers for exercising such powers are objective and specific, whether or how the government would be able to objectively assess if its directions or assistance would improve the situation, what an entity could be directed to do or not do, what checks and balances would apply, and whether an entity has rights of review and appeal. Elsewhere in its submission, AWS said it was unclear from the consultation paper whether and how the enhanced regulatory framework would apply, explaining that it was concerned the position of applying the enhanced regulatory framework at the "owner and operator level, not at [a] specific piece of technology" could lead to negative consequences. Instead, the cloud giant has recommended the enhanced regulatory framework only apply to specific critical infrastructure assets of a critical infrastructure entity. In order to avoid over-regulation, AWS said a technology service provider -- that is also a regulated critical infrastructure entity complying with its own sector PSO -- should not have to comply with additional security obligations imposed by another regulator that duplicates or builds upon that entity's PSO. It also wants clarification that entities will not be inspected, examined, or audited against the same requirements by multiple regulators. Acknowledging each sector is different, AWS said PSOs for one sector should not contradict or conflict with those in another sector, but it was concerned this approach could lead to a fragmented set of security requirements across different sectors. Asking for further clarity, AWS wants an appropriate scope of what entities and infrastructure are included in the "data and the cloud" sector. If there was to be a threshold, the cloud giant has suggested a test of "a data centre containing IT equipment capable of consuming more than 100kW of power in total" so that operators of infrastructure have clarity on whether they are covered. In addition, AWS said the PSO should reflect that an entity is only able to implement security processes that are within its control. Source
  12. After New Zealand's Supreme Court handed down a "mixed bag" decision this week which allows Kim Dotcom more time in the country to fight extradition, former colleague Mat­hias Ortmann is now under the spotlight. Police in Australia are reportedly preparing to seize the assets of the Megaupload co-founder in response to a forfeiture order issued by the United States. Earlier this week attention turned to New Zealand’s Supreme Court as a panel of judges prepared to publish their decision in the extradition case of Kim Dotcom and several of his former Megaupload colleagues. In their ruling, a panel of judges at the Supreme Court confirmed that Dotcom and former Megaupload colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk, and Finn Batato, can technically be extradited to the United States to face charges of criminal copyright infringement. However, the Court also granted the men permission to challenge the decision via a judicial review. Mathias Ortmann Now Under the Spotlight Just days after Dotcom’s legal team welcomed the chance to have their say on the alleged deficiencies in the case thus far, all eyes are now turning to Mathias Ortmann. While all of the defendants are facing extradition and serious criminal charges in the United States, as Megaupload co-founder and Dotcom’s former right-hand man, Ortmann is one of the more important pieces in this constantly shifting puzzle. Like Dotcom, Ortmann helped generate significant sums of money for Megaupload and indeed himself, something that didn’t go unnoticed by authorities in the United States who are now trying to get their hands on his assets overseas. Police Are Preparing to Seize Assets in Australia According to a report in The Australian (paywall), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are preparing to seize assets in the country attributable to Ortmann. The precise nature of those assets is unclear but back in 2015, an asset forfeiture complaint (pdf) filed by the US Government as part of the action against the ‘Mega Conspiracy’ listed Ortmann as the account holder for several Megaupload-related bank accounts in Australia. Huge volumes of cash, vehicles and other assets were originally seized by the authorities following the 2012 raid on Megaupload. Dotcom was subsequently able to claw back some of these after legal processes in New Zealand and Hong Kong. However, after being branded as fugitives by the US Government, Dotcom and his co-defendants were still denied access to millions of dollars. An appeal failed, as did further action at the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Authorities Obtained Order to Seize Ortmann’s Australian Assets In 2017, the US Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal by the defendants. As a result, the authorities obtained an order from a court in Virginia to use the Australian Federal Police to seize Ortmann’s Australian assets. On the back of the US foreign forfeiture order, the AFP is now pursuing Ortmann through the Supreme Court of New South Wales. According to The Australian, Ortmann – who together with co-defendant Finn Batato still works at Megaupload successor Mega in New Zealand – is yet to respond to the forfeiture attempt. Source: TorrentFreak
  13. In the summer a group of major Hollywood studios, Netflix, and other movie companies filed a new pirate site blocking application in Australia. The list contained plenty of obviously infringing sites but also the domains of Iran's 'YouTube' and an Israeli newspaper. The Federal Court has now awarded the injunction but following our initial report, both contentious domains have been removed. For the past several years, entertainment industry companies have been utilizing legislation in Australia that allows for the blocking of ‘pirate’ sites. Movie studios, TV companies and record labels have all taking advantage of the process, filing applications with the Federal Court to have obviously infringing sites blocked by ISPs, to reduce the number of subscribers accessing the platforms from within Australia. The overwhelming majority of applications have contained no obvious major issues, with rightsholders demanding that popular torrent, streaming and similar platforms should be rendered inaccessible by direct means. However, an application filed in the summer raised questions over a pair of domains that at best seemed outliers in the original 78-site list. Application for Injunction Filed in July 2020 The application, filed by companies including Disney, Netflix, Village Roadshow, and Warner Bros., requested an injunction that would compel around 50 ISPs including Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vodafone to block access to more than 100 domains. Many well-known platforms including 0gomovies.org, 1377x.to, best-series.me, pirateproxy.wtf, warez-bb.org, kissasian.sh, and bs.to, were included in the list but two in particular caught our eye. Aparat is often referred to as Iran’s YouTube. It is one of the most-visited sites in the world and the second most-visited site in Iran, where only Google.com gets more traffic. Like many user-uploaded content sites (YouTube included), it has its fair share of copyright infringement issues but the claim from the applicants, that the site’s “primary purpose or effect” is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of copyright, seemed a bit of a stretch. At the time, TorrentFreak reached out to Aparat for a comment on the inclusion of its domain on the list. We also approached the attorney for the movie companies but neither responded. Interestingly, however, at some Aparat was removed from the application but given the lack of documentation at the courts, the precise reason remains unknown. Another unusual entry in the original application was the domain of Israeli newspaper Kul al-Arab. Founded in 1987 and published on a weekly basis, the paper is said to be Israel’s most influential and widely read Arabic-language periodical. While that may be its main area of business, however, the site also has a VOD section, something which may have triggered the complaint process. Nevertheless, like Aparat, Kul al-Arab was also removed from the application at some point. Injunction Handed Down By The Federal Court After adjustments (two other platforms have also been removed, possibly due to inactivity), the final injunction handed down by Justice Steven Rares now targets 74 allegedly infringing platforms (four less than the original application) accessible via 112 domains, all of which must be blocked by the respondent ISPs which together cover most of the Australian market. Notable inclusions are domains operated by torrent site variants 1337x and 1377x, torrent index TorrentGalaxy, various Pirate Bay proxy sites, domains connected to infamous Indian torrent site Tamilrockers, warez portal Warez-bb, YouTube-ripping platform Y2Mate, TV show platforms BS.to and S.to, plus several rising anime sites. (Full list below) “I am satisfied that the owners have taken all reasonable steps to notify each person who operates the targeted sites,” writes Justice Rares in the order. “The owners’ solicitors sought to provide the respective site operators with notice of this proceeding and the relief sought against the site operators through communication to email address, postal address (where it could be found), or the online ‘contact us’ facility offered by the sites. Some of the targeted sites do not appear to offer any facility for receiving such contact. Others gave perfunctory acknowledgments.” The Judge notes that, in his opinion, an order requiring the ISPs to block the sites represents a “proportionate response to the scale and flagrancy of infringing conduct in the circumstances.” Acknowledging that the blocking will negatively affect the pirate sites’ business models, Justice Rares adds that the interference the judgment will cause is necessary to protect the applicants’ rights. “Moreover, I consider that it is in the public interest to disable access to each targeted site. That is because the sites seek to undermine the lawful rights of the owners and others to the protection of their intellectual property,” he concludes. The full judgment published October 15, 2020 can be found here Full list of blocked sites/domains: 1. 0goMovies (0gomovies.org / 2gomovies.net) 2. 123putlocker (123putlocker.to / 123putlocker.is) 3. 1337x torrent (1337xtorrent.net / 1337x.am) 4. 1337x.am (1337x.am) 5. 1377x.to (1337xto.to / 1377x.is / 1377x.to) 6. 91mjw (91mjw.com) 7. alarab.com (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 8. aparat.com (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 9. azm (azm.to) 10. best-series (best-series.me) 11. Cmovies (cmovies.ws / c-movies.cc) 12. europix.pro (europix.biz / europix.pro) 13. europixhd (europixhd.io / europixhd.net / europixhd.pro) 14. Fshare TV (fsharetv.co) 15. halimthemes (123moviesoknow.com / all123movies.com / ww2.123moviesoknow.com) 16. iyingshi6 (iyingshi6.tv) 17. limetorrents2020 (limetorrents.buzz / limetorrents2020.xyz) 18. mlcboard (mlcboard.com) 19. Movie INDOXXI (movieindoxxi.me / ligaxxi.me) 20. movies123 (movies123.ag / movies123.sc) 21. movies123.design (movies123.design) 22. movies123.email (movies123.email) 23. movies123.pics (movies123.pics) 24. movies123.sh (movies123.sh) 25. movies123.work (movies123.work) 26. mybinoo (imybinoo.org) 27. Myflixer (myflixer.com / myflixer.to) 28. Noxx (noxx.to) 29. ololo (ololo.to) 30. piratebay-proxylist (piratebay-proxylist.net / piratebay-proxylist.se) 31. pirateproxy (pirateproxy.wtf) 32. poku.tv (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 33. Project Free TV (projectfreetv.fun) 34. putlockers.bz (putlockers.bz) 35. putlockers.date (putlockers.date) 36. rezka (rezka.ag) 37. soap2day (soap2day.com, .im, .is, .se, .to, .org) 38. sockshare.ag (sockshare.ag) 39. tamilrockers.ws (tamilrockers.com / tamilrockers.ws) 40. Tinyzone (tinyzone.tv / tinyzonetv.to) 41. torrentgalaxy (torrentgalaxy.to) 42. tvhay (tvhay.org) 43. unblockit (unblockit.top, .bid, .biz, .one, .red) 44. Vidcloud (vidcloud9.com) 45. warez-bb (warez-bb.org) 46. Watch Series (mywatchseries.stream) 47. watchonlinemovies (moviesonline.com.pk / moviesonlinewatch.com.pk / movieswatch.com.pk / watchmovies7.com.pk) 48. watchseries.net (watchseries.net) 49. watchseriesHD (watchserieshd.co) 50. watch-seriesHD (watch-serieshd.cc) 51. watchserieshd.tv (watchserieshd.tv) 52. world4ufree (world4ufree.top, .work, .blue, .casa, .host, .icu, .life, .surf) 53. x1337x.eu (x1337x.eu) 54. Y2mate.com (Y2mate.com) 55. Y80s.com (Y80s.com) 56. yifytorrent.pro (yifytorrent.pro) 57. Bs (bs.to) 58. S (s.to) 59. AnimeKisa (animekisa.tv) 60. Anime4You (anime4you.one) 61. Animeram (animeram.cc) 62. 123anime (123anime.cc) 63. Animeflix (Animeflix.to) 64. 4anime (4anime.to) 65. Darkanime Stream (app.darkanime.stream) 66. AnimePill (animepill.com) 67. Anime Simple (animesimple.com) 68. AnimeSim (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 69. AniMixPlay (animixplay.com) 70. 14tv (14tv.com) 71. Bestdrama (destdrama.net) 72. Dramanice (dramanice.movie / dramanice.site) 73. haitum.com (haitum.com) 74. Have8 (have8.tv) 75. Hktvdrama (Hktvdrama.com) 76. Kissasian (kissasian.sh, .ch) 77. loldytt (loldytt.com) 78. newasiantv (newasiantv.tv) Source: TorrentFreak
  14. Google has halted plans to launch its ‘News Showcase’ product in Australia as the tech company isn’t clear if it will be viable under the nation’s draft News Media Bargaining code. The company doesn’t oppose a code, but the arbitration system outlined in the draft is “unworkable,” Mel Silva, Google’s vice president in Australia and New Zealand, said in a blog on SundayConcerns include “unfair payment conditions and unclear definitions and obligations ”Earlier, Google said it would start paying select media outlets to display curated content on its news app, earmarking more than $1b for the program over three years Source
  15. On Monday, wildlife managers announced that they had brought Tasmanian devils back into the (relative) wilds of the Australian mainland, the first time these creatures will be living there in 3,000 years. It’s an attempt at a two-for-one bank shot to save the ferocious marsupials as well as creatures under assault from feral cats. He scream. The cause of Tasmanian devil’s disappearance from continental Australia is murky, with some evidence tying it overhunting by Indigenous Australians. Other signs point to the introduction of the dingo. Whatever the case, Monday’s news is part of an effort to bring the Tasmanian devil back to its former range. Aussie Ark, the group leading the reintroduction, has released 26 devils into a sanctuary in New South Wales near Barrington Tops National Park. The sanctuary is enclosed and covers nearly 1,000 acres, giving the devils space to roam without impacting native wildlife outside the area. Each marsupial has been outfitted with a radio collar, and camera traps dot the sanctuary. That will allow scientists to study them in a somewhat controlled setting to see how they fare and interact with other wildlife. Australia’s native species have had a rough go of it in recent years; the continent is facing some of the highest extinction rates anywhere on the planet. Climate change has cranked up the heat and led to catastrophic bushfires that resulted in the death of an estimated 3 billion animals. Logging has also reduced habitat. Tasmanian devils are fierce, but they’re unlikely to stop those two threats, though their presence could help lead to more forest protections. Tasmanian devils being released into the wild. Where their reintroduction could help, however, is doing battle with the feral cats that have turned the Outback into a buffet. Cats showed up with European settlers and quickly took to murdering everything they could get their claws on. A 2018 paper found cats in the Outback killed 1.8 million reptiles every single day. They also slaughter 316 million birds and 800 million mammals per year. Cats coupled with foxes, another introduced species, have pushed native wildlife to the brink. Researchers have been trying novel solutions, like training native creatures to fear feral cats. But the devil could help do battle with these invasive species, and previous research has suggested reintroduction as a potential way to rebalance ecosystems. Tim Faulkner, the president of Aussie Ark, said in an email that the Tasmanian devils were “regulators” of Australia’s native ecosystems. “The devil fills the ecological niche of scavenger and predator,” he said (while I continued to hum “Regulators” in my head). “It coexists with Australian fauna, especially small mammal/marsupials. Since European settlement in Australia, we’ve lost nearly 40 small mammal [species]. This is as many as the rest of the world combined and the highest rate of extinction on earth. These are mostly because of the feral fox and cat. By rewilding the devil, it can compete against the fox and can in turn help in the protection of other native animals.” Fierce. The rewilding project could also help the devils themselves. In Tasmania, they’ve been decimated by devil facial tumor disease, a transmissible cancer. The population brought to the mainland are disease-free and suitable to mate without the risk of in-breeding. That essentially makes them a backup population, should devils continue to decline back in Tasmania. The tumor disease has also given researchers a sense of what to expect with cat populations on the mainland. Faulkner said that where devil populations have declined 80% to 90%, “cat numbers have significantly increased. It’s easy to appreciate that healthy Tasmanian devil populations have helped in keeping cat numbers in check.” The rewilding movement has picked up steam in recent years around the world. One of the most prominent examples is wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone 25 years ago. The project is widely viewed as a success. Elk populations have shrunk to levels considered healthy, and that’s set off a number of beneficial impacts throughout the ecosystem, known as a trophic cascade. Researchers have also brought bison back to Illinois in an attempt to recreate the tallgrass prairies that blanketed the U.S. before settlers wiped out the herds and planted monocrops of corn, wheat, and soybeans across the Midwest. There was a much smaller gap between extirpation and reintroduction for those projects. But Faulkner said that 3,000 years is “realistically the ecological ‘blink of an eye,’” and the Tasmanian devil project could yield benefits and insights into how Australia’s once-intact ecosystems functioned. The group said it also plans to bring Indigenous groups into the process down the road, though the role they’ll play is unclear. “Once these first rewilding are successful, we’ll engage with Indigenous groups along with many others to collaborate and achieve bigger and better outcomes,” Faulkner said. Source
  16. Source: https://cybernews.com/security/australian-social-news-platform-leaks-80000-user-records/ To increase efforts to secure user data, Snewpit will be reviewing “all server logs and access control settings” to confirm that no unauthorized access took place and to ensure that “user data is secure and encrypted.” The CyberNews investigations team discovered an exposed data bucket that belongs to Snewpit, an Australian news sharing platform. The unsecured bucket contains close to 80,000 user records, including usernames, full names, email addresses, and profile pictures. The files that contain the records were stored on a publicly accessible Amazon Web Services (AWS) server, which means that anyone with a direct URL to the files could access and download the data that was left out in the open. On September 24, the sensitive files in the Snewpit bucket were secured by the company and are no longer accessible. To see if your email address has been exposed in this or other security breaches, use our personal data leak checker. What data is in the bucket? The exposed Snewpit Amazon AWS bucket contained 26,203 files, including: 256 video files filmed and uploaded by Snewpit users and developers 23,586 image files of photos documenting local events that were apparently uploaded by the users 4 CSV files, one of which contained 79,725 user records, including full names, email addresses, usernames, user descriptions, last login times, and total time spent in the Snewpit app, among other metrics Aside from the user records, the bucket also contained thousands of user profile pictures. Examples of exposed records Here are some examples of the user records, videos, and images left on the exposed Snewpit bucket. The CSV file contains user records for what we assume to be users who downloaded and installed the Snewpit app, which currently has 50,000+ installs on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store. The video files stored in the bucket seem to show raw footage from news posts, including criminal incidents. There were also user profile pictures among the files stored in the bucket. Who owns the bucket? The publicly available Amazon bucket appears to belong to Snewpit, a software company based in Australia. Snewpit is a map-based peer-to-peer app that allows users to create, find, and share real-time news updates, as well as receive notifications for news posted within 5 kilometers of their location. According to the developers, the app is aimed at helping users “form a worldwide community of citizen journalists, reporting and discovering local news and events happening around them.” The app is mostly used by Australians, with small userbases currently located in the US and the UK. Who had access to the data? According to Snewpit founder Charlie Khoury, the bucket has been exposed for 5 weeks since the development team made server changes to the system reporting. While Snewpit have not noticed any suspicious activity, the company is reviewing all server logs to confirm that this is the case. With that said, the files were stored on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, and bad actors can find unprotected Amazon buckets relatively easily. Since these buckets lack any sort of protection from unauthorized access, there is a possibility that the data may have been accessed by bad actors for malicious purposes during the 5-week period. What’s the impact of the leak? Fortunately, the files stored in the exposed Snewpit bucket don’t contain any deeply sensitive information like personal document scans, passwords, or social security numbers. However, even this data can be enough for bad actors to abuse for a variety of malicious purposes: Contact details like full names and email addresses can be used by phishers and scammers to commit targeted attacks against the exposed Snewpit users by sending them malicious spam emails Particularly determined cybercriminals can combine the data found in this bucket with previous breaches in other verticals in order to build more accurate profiles of potential targets for identity theft What happened to the data? We discovered the Snewpit bucket on September 24 and immediately reached out to the company in order to help secure the bucket. The Snewpit team responded within minutes and secured the files containing user records on the same day. What to do if you’ve been affected by the leak? If you have a Snewpit account, there is a high chance that your records may have been exposed in this breach. To secure your data and avoid any potential harm from bad actors, we recommend doing the following: Use our personal data leak checker to see if your email address has been leaked. Immediately change your email password and consider using a password manager. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your email and other online accounts. Look out for incoming spam emails and phishing messages. Don’t click on anything that looks even remotely suspicious, including emails from senders you do not recognize.
  17. Facebook may block news from being shared on its platforms in Australia Proposed rules to force tech platforms to share ad revenues with news publishers are not workable, the company says Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge Facebook plans to block the sharing of local and international news stories on its platforms if legislation requiring tech platforms to pay publishers for content becomes law, the company said in a blog post Monday. “Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect,” Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand wrote in the blog post, arguing that the commission overseeing the process “ignored important facts,” including the relationship between social media and news media. “Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.” Easton continued. “This is not our first choice — it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.” The country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code law, which is in draft form at present, stemmed from a 2019 inquiry that found tech giants like Facebook and Google take too large a share of online advertising revenue from media organizations in Australia. The Treasurer of Australia ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a voluntary code of conduct which would force the platforms to pay media companies. The ACCC told the government it seemed “unlikely” that a voluntary agreement could be reached, however. Under the proposed legislation, Google and Facebook would have to provide publishers with advance notice of changes to their algorithms, with penalties for failing to comply. Both companies have pushed back strongly against this provision. with Facebook saying it would give news organizations in Australia an unfair competitive advantage. Easton wrote in his post that news represents a fraction of what Facebook users see in their news feeds, and is “not a significant source of revenue” for the company. In addition to investing “millions of dollars” in Australian news businesses, he added, “over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge — additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.” Earlier this month, Google published an open letter about the proposed law, and added a pop-up to its homepage in Australia warning “the way Aussies use Google is at risk” and that the regulation could hurt their search experience. The law, Google argued, “is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk.” The ACCC pushed back, saying Google’s letter contains “misinformation,” and added that “a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.” Media companies in Australia have largely supported the proposed changes. Australia’s newspapers and media outlets, like their counterparts in other countries, have been hard-hit by the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian has reported. Large Australian media companies have asked staff to take pay cuts in recent months, and several newspapers were forced to halt production because of a sharp decline in advertising revenue. Facebook may block news from being shared on its platforms in Australia
  18. Can Australia Force Google and Facebook to Pay for News? A proposed law would require the tech giants to negotiate with publishers. Similar attempts in Europe have largely failed. Illustration: Sam Whitney Australians visiting Google.com last week found, hovering below the search bar, an exclamation point encased in a yellow triangle. A warning: “The way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk from new government regulation.” The warning links to an open letter from Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva. Google’s and YouTube’s offering in Australia could become “dramatically worse,” she warns. The services themselves are “at risk.” All Australians users could be affected. Silva’s warning stems from a proposed law that would require Google and Facebook to negotiate with news outlets and pay for news content featured on their platforms. Australian regulators say the tech giants benefit from publishing news generated by others, but Google and Facebook are so dominant in search and social, respectively, that publishers can’t make them pay for it. It’s not the first time a country has tried to force Google and Facebook to pay media companies for republishing their news. A 2014 Spanish law required publishers to charge Google for the headlines and snippets of their stories that appeared on Google News. In response, the company removed the Google News service from Spain and took Spanish publishers off its news service globally. Readership of news stories dropped, particularly at smaller, less-well-known outlets, according to one study. Last year, France wrote into law an EU copyright directive that demands Google pay for the news content that appears on its sites. Google was ordered back to the bargaining table this year after it removed French publishers’ snippets from its search results and did not pay for links. In 2014, Germany’s biggest publishing house briefly barred Google from featuring snippets of its articles in a bid to make the search giant pay licensing fees but backed out after traffic plunged. Australian officials studied those efforts and took a different approach. They are not relying on copyright law, and they included measures designed to prevent Google or Facebook from dropping or down-ranking Australian news based on whether outlets try to negotiate a price, as happened in Europe. In response, Google is pitting itself against “big media companies” and appealing to the Australian public to oppose the proposal. Regulators and media executives around the world are watching to see if Australia can succeed where others have stumbled. The Australian approach could set a global precedent, says Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. “If every country in the world starts demanding the same, then it will have an impact on [Google and Facebook’s] financial model.” The proposed Australian law emerged from an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms by the country’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The commission concluded that many news businesses are reliant on—and benefit from—Google and Facebook for traffic but have little bargaining power with the tech giants. It also found that while Google and Facebook derived little advertising revenue from featuring news headlines and snippets on their sites, original news content benefited both platforms. More than one-third of Facebook users reported using the social media site to access news, according to the ACCC. Google placed a Top Stories carousel of headlines and snippets in response to 8 to 14 percent of queries, which the commission said indicated that Google values surfacing news content. Google’s ability to provide high-quality and reliable search, and Facebook’s ability to attract and retain eyeballs on its feed, the ACCC argued, relied to some degree on their ability to showcase independent, accurate news content. The dispute is “about the extent to which [news publishers’] content drives traffic, and they don’t receive returns from that,” says Terry Flew, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology. He says the proposed law recognizes “that each party derives benefit from the other. In the case of the platforms, it’s the content; in the case of the publishers, it’s the distribution channels.” Australia, Flew says, has “proposed that there must be a just price, if you like, for the financial benefit gained by the platforms.” That just price is intended to result from negotiations between the online platforms and media companies. Should they fail to agree, the parties will submit “final offers” to a panel of arbitrators, who must choose one or the other. The proposed law also would require that Google and Facebook give news outlets 28 days notice of changes to their algorithms that would harm news businesses, such as removing snippets, down-ranking publishers, or closing Google News in the country. Violations, including of the nondiscrimination requirement, could result in fines of up to 10 percent of the platform’s annual revenue in Australia—for each offense. Silva, the Google executive, says the company pays some publishers for their content, through a licensing agreement announced in June with several Australian, Brazilian, and German publishers, and is looking to do more so, but that the draft code is “unworkable.” Google says the continual changes to its algorithm make it impractical to identify changes that might affect news businesses. The proposal, Silva said in a statement, “ignores the significant value Google provides to news publishers.” Sharing details about the algorithm “would provide an unfair advantage to news businesses and help them feature more prominently in organic search results at the expense of other businesses, creators, and website owners,” she said, adding that the proposal also doesn’t include safeguards for data shared with news businesses. Together, Google argues, these conditions put its services in Australia at risk. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed,” Silva wrote in the open letter to Australians. Asked in July whether this could mean removing Australian news from its services, Silva replied: “All options are on the table.” Facebook hasn’t directly appealed to users to oppose the proposed law. Will Easton, the company’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement when the proposal was released in July, “We are reviewing the government's proposal to understand the impact it will have on the industry, our services, and our investment in the news ecosystem in Australia.” Fires, a Pandemic, and 8 Reporters Australia’s news media industry has been contracting, with title closures and journalist job losses across the country. Media companies are in a bind, Flew says. They can’t afford not to be on Facebook and Google, but the distribution of news on the platforms undermines news media companies’ ability to monetize their content and build brands. In its inquiry, the competition commission found that after viewing news snippets, some consumers won’t click through to a news site where the publisher can generate advertising revenue. Google and Facebook account for 71 percent of the $6.5 billion (US) spent annually in Australia. But the commission did not base its proposal on lost advertising revenue. Rather, it argues that the content itself is of intrinsic value to platforms and therefore they should pay for it. One of the country’s largest media companies, Nine, headed by a former federal treasurer, has suggested the two companies compensate media companies up to $432 million (US) for use of their content. Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology For smaller outlets, any compensation at all would be welcome. Bruce Ellen’s team of eight journalists at the Latrobe Valley Express newspaper, covering an area east of Melbourne, has had a busy year. Summer bushfires singed the edges of their readership’s region. Then, as Covid-19 hit in the autumn and returned for a second, more deadly wave in the winter, the newspaper published breaking and exclusive stories about test shortages and the outbreak of clusters in the area. This kind of reporting could not be found anywhere else. But it appears via a Google search and is posted on Facebook, including by the paper itself. “We get no recompense from Google at all,” says Ellen, general manager of the paper. “Not one cent. My P&L shows nothing at all.” News is valued by users of Facebook and Google and can attract and keep users on the platforms. It costs his business to produce this content, but so far it has cost Facebook and Google nothing to feature it in headline or snippet form. “They’re leveraging our content to drive traffic,” says Ellen. The proposed law is not a panacea for the problems facing news media, he says.“We have to row our own boat.” But it could help stop the hemorrhaging of journalists and publications. For his paper, believed to be the last regional newspaper in Australia to print two editions a week, it might just mean survival. “In reality it means we can continue to employ the same number of journalists,” he says. A Battle for Public Opinion The code has received a generally warm reception from Australian news businesses. News Corporation Australasia executive chair Michael Miller called it a “watershed moment.” In a statement, he said that the law would mean that the platforms, which derive “immense benefit” from news content “will no longer be able to use their power to walk away from negotiations with news creators … The tech platforms' days of free-riding on other people's content are ending.” A consultation period over the proposed law ended Friday. The ACCC will consider revisions before putting the proposal before Parliament. With general support from both the governing conservative coalition and the Labor opposition, the legislation is expected to pass. “Then we get into the realm of public opinion and pressure,” says Flew, the Queensland professor. “The strongest card that Google and Facebook have is a strong dislike of News Corporation and mainstream media in general in Australia, in particular among young people.” Google “could potentially rally the troops in a way that no other company could,” says Barnet. “It’s their only option. But it’s huge.” Shortly after Google released its open letter, the ACCC responded, accusing Google of spreading “misinformation” by suggesting it might have to charge for its services or share additional user data. Google disputes that its letter included misinformation. “Our little ACCC has got the chutzpah,” says Barnet. Back in the Latrobe Valley, Ellen harbors a cautious optimism. “But the fight has only just begun,” says the newspaper manager. “I assure you.” Can Australia Force Google and Facebook to Pay for News?
  19. Google has reached a new voluntary agreement with copyright holders in Australia. The search engine promises to block proxies and mirrors of pirate sites without a court order. The new agreement aims to fix a loophole that made alternative addresses of blocked pirate sites easy to find. Years ago, Australia was often described as a hotbed for piracy. This was a thorn in the side of copyright holders, who repeatedly asked the Government to help out. On the top of their list was new legislation that would make it possible to compel ISPs to block pirate sites. In 2015 this wish became reality with the passing of Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act. Soon after the amendments became law, the first blocking requests were submitted and since then ISPs have been ordered to block hundreds of sites. The entertainment industry was happy with this new enforcement tool. However, they also felt that it wasn’t enough. Village Roadshow’s Graham Burke, in particular, took aim at Google and other search engines, which still indexed these pirate sites and many alternatives. The Proxy and Mirror Loophole To address these and other loopholes, new legislation was passed in 2018 which made it easier for proxies and mirrors to be blocked. In addition, it also opened the door to a new type of measure that required search engines to block pirate sites. Initially, Google fiercely opposed the new plans but in a surprise move last year, the search engine voluntarily agreed to remove hundreds of sites from its Australian search results. This agreement was made without a court order. Instead, Google chose to remove sites that the ISPs were already blocking. This was a step forward in the eyes of the rightsholders, but it was far from perfect. After being blocked, pirate sites would simply switch to new domains which are easy to find through search engines. While these are eventually covered through updated court orders, the process can take weeks. “The pirates are taking advantage of the lag time between their criminal mirror site going up by changing one letter and us taking three or four weeks to go back through the court system,” Burke, who’s also the Chair of Creative Content Australia, told SMH. Google Steps Up its Anti-Piracy Game, Again To fix this ‘loophole’ Google has now agreed to a new arrangement that goes even further. In an agreement with copyright holders, Google promises to de-index mirrors and proxies as soon as they are reported. This will happen before a court order is issued, without any judicial oversight. That said, it only applies to (presumed) alternative locations of domains that have previously been targeted by a blocking injunction. This effectively addresses the mirror and proxy problem while the rightsholders are still in the process of getting an updated court order. By doing so, it will be harder for pirates to find alternative domain names. “This is shutting down that loophole and it’s massive,” Burke said. Did Google Have a Change of Heart? Google’s cooperative stance runs counter to comments that were made earlier by the search engine. The company repeatedly argued that removing full domains from its search results is dangerous. In addition, it actively protested Australia’s blocking plans when they were announced. TorrentFreak asked Google for a comment on the new voluntary agreement and how it differs from its previous statements, but the company didn’t immediately respond. Speaking with SMH, the search engine said that it hopes this measure will help address the piracy problem. “We are hopeful these measures will be a welcome step towards protecting copyright and will provide a faster solution for rightsholders,” Lucinda Longcroft, director of public policy at Google Australia said. Source: TorrentFreak
  20. Google sued by ACCC for expanded personal data use without consent The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken legal action against the tech giant Google over the allegation that the company failed to properly inform the customers on how their data is being used and did not get the consent of customers when expanding its personal data use and privacy policy. The case is filed against the firm for combining users personal information in Google accounts with their activities on non-Google sites in 2016, to display ads. "This meant this data about users' non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google. Previously, this information had been kept separately from users' Google accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user," the ACCC said. The ACCC also accused Google of using the newly-combined information to improve the commercial performance of its advertising businesses.“We are taking this action because we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information, including internet activity on websites not connected to Google,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement. After the advent of coronavirus contact-tracing apps, critics have been vocal about their right to privacy, as they fear that these apps could be used to individually track users. Similarly, the U.S. regulatory body, concerned about how tech companies treat user data, has summoned Big Tech CEOs for a congressional hearing. Source: Reuters Google sued by ACCC for expanded personal data use without consent
  21. Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know Now available for Android and iOS (Image credit: Australian Department of Health) Following on from the release of its official coronavirus information app, the Australian Government has now launched its voluntary CovidSafe tracking app with the goal of tracing the spread of Covid-19 more accurately. Available now for Android and iOS, the CovidSafe app works by recognising and keeping track of other devices with the app installed and Bluetooth switched on, essentially keeping a record of the people (who have also opted in) who come within 1.5 metres of you for a period of at least 15 minutes. The idea is that the app will speed up the current process of notifying people who have been in close proximity to someone with Covid-19. The CovidSafe app will take note of the "date, time, distance and duration of the contact," as stated by the Department of Health's website. If diagnosed with Covid-19, users will have the option of consenting to the release of their contact data, in turn allowing the app to get in touch with other users who have been in close proximity to the affected patient. While the app's source code has not been released at this time, Twitter developer Matthew Robbins has independently decompiled the Android app and has found it to be "above board, very transparent and follows industry standard," as reported by Ausdroid. Privacy According to the CovidSafe app's privacy policy, the Australian Government will ask for your consent to collect your mobile phone number, name, age range and postcode. The collected personal data will reportedly be encrypted and stored on your device alone and will be automatically deleted after 21 days. If you are under 16 years of age, a parent or guardian will have to consent for you. For the app to work, the site admits that some data will have to be recorded elsewhere. This includes "the encrypted user ID, date and time of contact and Bluetooth signal strength of other COVIDSafe users with which you come into contact." The policy states that a new "encrypted user ID will be created every 2 hours," however, this information "will be logged in the National COVIDSafe data store, operated by the Digital Transformation Agency, in case you need to be identified for contact tracing." The data store is described as a "cloud-based facility, using infrastructure located in Australia, which has been classified as appropriate for storage of data up to the ‘protected’ security level." As for how long your data will remain in the cloud, the Department of Health's website states that "We will delete all data in the data store after the COVID-19 pandemic has concluded as required by the Biosecurity Determination." Your data will reportedly also be deleted if you uninstall the CovidSafe from your device or if you "upload your contact data to the data store." The policy stresses that "No location data (data that could be used to track your movements) will be collected at any time." The Australian Government has also released a more thorough 78-page Privacy Impact Assessment in PDF form. Other issues and concerns For the CovidSafe app to work effectively, your device's Bluetooth will need to remain switched on at all times so that the app can continuously ping other users. Of course, this is expected to drain your phone's battery life quicker than usual. While Android devices will be able to run the CovidSafe app in the background, meaning "you can use your phone as normal without having to open or check COVIDSafe," the app FAQ stipulates that iOS devices will need to "Keep COVIDSafe running and notifications on when you're out and about, especially in meetings and public places" – a barrier which could prove a nuisance for many. That said, while the app certainly has its drawbacks, it appears to be secure and seems to take users' privacy into consideration. With this in mind, potential users will need to weigh these minor downsides against the app's proposed benefits – namely, a far more accurate way of tracing the spread of coronvirus, which should in turn help speed up Australia's return to normalcy (or something like it). Source: Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know (TechRadar)
  22. The Australian Government recently reported that local piracy rates had been slashed in half over a period of 12 months. While this impressive drop was music to the ears of copyright holders, a closer inspection of the data shows that something is not quite right, or potentially, very wrong. Australia’s latest online copyright infringement report, released by the Department of Communications in December, suggested that piracy is falling. The data pointed out that there’s been a steady decrease in the number of people who consume music, movies, and TV shows illegally. This follows a trend that was revealed in earlier reports. According to the Government, a mere 16% of the population can be classified as pirates. This is a drastic drop compared to last year when a similar study found that 32% obtained content illegally. In 2015, when the first survey was taken, the number was even higher at 43%. Like many other news outlets, we reported the numbers as they were presented. However, something didn’t feel right. This prompted us to step back and take a closer look at the reported data to see how this unprecedented drop took place. Specifically, we want to see where this drop comes from and how it can be so massive. The bar chart below provides a good starting point. It shows what percentage of a particular category of digital content is consumed 100% legally, 100% illegally, or a mix of both. The chart also shows the same data for “any of the four” content categories. As reported, the bar on the far right shows that, across all categories, only 16% of the respondents consumed content unlawfully in any of the four categories. That is exactly as reported, so that’s good news. The problem is, however, that this percentage doesn’t make much sense when we look at the individual categories. Based on the reported sample numbers, the 16% across all categories translates to 314 respondents. In other words, 314 people pirated something from any of the four categories which includes music, games, movies and TV. However, when we look at the movies category on its own we see that 25% of the respondents consumed movies illegally. Based on the sample size for that category, that translates to 316 respondents. How can it be that more people consume movies illegally than in the four categories combined, which also includes movies, and thus the same respondents? Technically this can be chalked up as rounding variance. But even when that’s the case, it seems implausible that every person who pirated something also pirated movies. That explanation is even more implausible when we look at the exact same data from the year before. That year 32% of the people consumed content from any of the four categories unlawfully (555 respondents). However, less than half of these were also movie pirates (240 respondents). It seems very unlikely that when in 2018 less than 50% of the self-proclaimed pirates consumed illegal movies, this suddenly went up to 100% in 2019. We shared our findings with the Australian Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts. Despite several back and forths, they were not able to explain these findings. In previous years the report also included the raw numbers for all the categories, which could provide more insight. However, the most recent report no longer includes these and the Government informed us that it does not have permission to share the data. And it doesn’t stop there. The further we delve into the numbers the weirder things get. For example, there is a similar chart to the one shown earlier but in this instance detailing the consumption of “free” content (e.g. downloading from torrent sites). As shown above, this indicates that 46% of all respondents who consumed free content in any of the four categories did so unlawfully. This translates to roughly 678 respondents, which is much more than the number cited for all content consumers (paid and free), which presumably includes the same people. There are many other examples to give but the above clearly illustrates that there’s something fishy with these numbers. According to the Government, the entire pirate population was slashed in half last year, but we doubt that this is really the case. Source
  23. There is content on the envelope. A Senate committee has been told that law enforcement agencies sometimes get full URLs from telcos, despite government reassurances. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe, has revealed that law enforcement agencies are being given the full URLs of web pages visited by people under investigation. Australia's mandatory telecommunications data retention scheme was meant to deliver only so-called "metadata" to the cops and spooks. Under the scheme, a warrant is not required. But according to Manthorpe, the "ambiguity around the definition of content" means that agencies might effectively be receiving the content of communications. The ombudsman explained his concerns during a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) on Friday. Senator Andrew Hastie, Committee Chair: Could you talk about your concerns regarding ambiguity around the definition of content and whether or not an agency should have access to that when disclosed by a carrier under an authorisation? Michael Manthorpe, Commonwealth Ombudsman: Yes, essentially, the piece of ambiguity we have observed through our inspections is that sometimes the metadata, in the way it's captured, particularly URL data, and sometimes IP addresses but particularly URL data, does start to actually in its granularity start to communicate something about the content of what is being looked at. That's essentially the point we're making. Hastie: Just to be very clear, you get the URL, you get the full www. whatever it is .com? Manthorpe: That's right. Hastie: Which can indicate indicate what they're looking at. Manthorpe: Exactly. It can be quite long, or it can be quite short, and in some cases the descriptor is long enough to start -- we start to ask ourselves well that's almost communicating content, even though it's captured in the URL. Hastie: And then multiple -- we are getting too technical but you know -- multiple clicks, for example, on a thread would generate more and more, I guess, content. Manthorpe: That's right. Yes, exactly. So it's, we're simply highlighting that I think when the scheme was commenced, the concept of metadata was probably thought to be quite a clean and delineable thing, but we know that there is a greyness on the edges here that we thought we should call out. Hastie: Yeah. Sometimes there's information on the envelope, so to speak, to use the analogy from a couple of years ago. Manthorpe: That's a good analogy. As for the intelligence agencies, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Margaret Stone, said that she wasn't aware of any instances of content being provided unlawfully, but she echoed Manthorpe's concerns. "There is this assumption that you get more from content than metadata," Stone told the committee. "But when you look at the range of metadata, and what it tells you, there's an argument that could be made that it is just as intrusive, or almost as intrusive, as content. You can tell a lot about what a person's doing from that." 'Grave concerns' that this wasn't meant to happen Labor Senator Anthony Byrne noted that the major telecommunications companies had given the government "numerous assurances ... that they could keep metadata in a subset" away from the content. "The federal government actually gave these telecommunications companies a substantial amount of money to ensure that that has actually happened," Byrne said. "If that's not happening, that's of grave concern to me." Byrne stressed that he wasn't critical of the agencies, nor the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office, merely that what he was now being told did not match how he thought the system was meant to work. "We are undertaking a review of this mandatory data regime, whether or not it works, whether or not it could be improved," he said. "It's nothing more than that." Telco data requests are meant to be written down Law enforcement agencies are obtaining telco data without written authorisation in a "very small number" of cases, according to ombudsman Manthorpe. "In some cases, they issue an internal authorisation based on verbal advice. And at an operational level, I can understand why that might occur, but it isn't catered for in the legislation," he said. "Sometimes, agencies -- if they issue a verbal authorisation -- do subsequently go to commit[ing it] to writing." Or, presumably, sometimes not. "We see non-compliance in a small minority of cases generally, and this is one area of potential non-compliance," Manthorpe said. "I would want to emphasise that, you know, there is a big volume of authorisations, and as far as we can ascertain, most of them are authorised appropriately." However as the committee noted, with the huge number of authorisations issues, a small percentage might still represent a large absolute number. In the 2018-2019 financial year, 295,691 authorisations to access metadata were issued across all state and federal law enforcement agencies. This number does not include those issued to intelligence agencies. ASIO guidelines 'well out of date' The Attorney-General's guidelines that cover data collection by the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) are "well out of date", according to Margaret Stone. "The present guidelines were issued in 2007, so guidance in relation to new powers introduced since then would be very helpful," she said. As well as accessing mandatory data retention, those new powers include Australia's controversial encryption laws, and the power to conduit a range of "special operations". "We've been saying for many years now, that those guidelines need revising," Stone said. "They're well out of date, the present guidelines." PJCIS has been hearing evidence as part of its review of the mandatory data retention scheme. These powers were legislated as Part 5-1A of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, usually referred to as the TIA Act, in 2015. The committee is due to report by April 13. Source
  24. Australia’s Wildfires Might Intensify Future Climate Crises Wildfires release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Their broader impact is far more complicated. Australia’s wildfires are burning with such intensity that they’re sparking contained, small-scale weather systems. Thunderstorms triggered by atmospheric disturbance might at first seem to offer relief in the form of raindrops, but instead, bolts of lightning can strike nearby trees and spread the fire even further than before. This is a small-scale example of an environmental feedback loop—where conditions on the ground trigger a self-perpetuating chain of events. Wildfires pump vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating up the planet in the short term. But are wildfires helping to accelerate climate change or just a deadly consequence of a more extreme climate? Since September, hundreds of fires across Australia have engulfed more than 6.3 million hectares of land. Villages have been razed and 25 people killed so far. Months of hot, dry weather and strong winds created the perfectly deadly conditions that keep conflagrations roaring. There were at least twice as many fires in New South Wales in 2019 as there were in any other year this century. There are a couple of ways increasingly severe wildfire seasons could speed up global climate change. In the months immediately following wildfires, the volume of CO2 in the world’s atmosphere increases, magnifying the heat trapped there. “Wildfires create a substantial contribution, because they happen in places like the Amazon rain forest and the peat bogs in Indonesia, which contain a lot of carbon,” says Colin Prentice, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires at Imperial College London. The ongoing Australian fire season has released more than 350 million metric tons of CO2 so far, with fires expected to keep burning over the next two months. Fires also throw up clouds of soot into the atmosphere, which compounds the problem. “Black carbon is the most strongly light-absorbing material from fires, and it is regarded as one of the most important individual climate-warming agents,” Yafang Cheng, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, told WIRED in November 2018. These particles can float up into the upper layers of the atmosphere where they exert an even greater heating effect—and hang around for months. But there are longer-term effects too. In more typical wildfire cycles, the vegetation that burns is usually replaced by the same type of plant life. But longer and more severe fire seasons—as we’re seeing in many parts of the world—means it’s becoming more difficult to predict what type of vegetation will spring up in place of the freshly incinerated ecosystems. “If the frequency and intensity of fires begins to change, then you’re probably going to change the character of the vegetation as well—toward one that is adapted to more frequent fires,” says Prentice. What type of vegetation might grow back after the Australian wildfires is still uncertain. But there’s a chance that the form it takes could increase the likelihood of future infernos. A 2017 study published in the journal Global Change Biology that examined fauna in the Australian Alps found that one of the first plant species to grow back in the area after wildfires was woody shrubs. Worryingly, these were more flammable than the feathery tussock grasses that had previously colonized the land. One caveat to consider though, is that in the years following an extreme fire, there will simply be less vegetation to burn the next time around—meaning a future blaze would be less intense. None of this bodes well for the future. But there are other factors at play too. “In short, it’s not as simple as ‘more fires cause more fire danger,’” says Park Williams, assistant research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “It's not really a dominant mechanism,” Prentice says of the fire-climate change feedback loop. “It’s a mechanism that does exist, and we can quantify it in the sense that if there are a lot of fires globally in a particular year, that does mean the total biomass on land has gone down a bit, and some of that carbon is going to stay in the atmosphere. But it's probably fair to say it’s a secondary effect.” The most important effect being, of course, that we emit millions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and half of it remains there. Although less plant life means less photosynthesis (and therefore less CO2 being converted to oxygen) in the short term, vegetation eventually grows back. “More important than one big fire year is the question, what is going to happen to the biomass of plants on the continents in the future warmer world?” says Williams. While we generally focus on the negative effects of climate change, one positive is that the rate of plant growth has actually sped up along with accelerating global temperatures. Satellite imagery shows that global plant productivity and biomass has increased over the past several decades due to longer growing seasons in cold places, more agricultural productivity, and increasing CO2—which is, after all, one of the fundamental fuels for plant growth. Right now, global plant life handily gobbles up between 25 and 30 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. But in time, warming and increased CO2 output might put a dent in this oxygen-gifting process. “We don’t know what will happen, and that’s partly because of fire,” says Williams. Fire adds an element of unpredictability—the possible effects on global ecosystems are hard to calculate right now. "Wildfires, particularly these kind of fires, are what is termed a 'wicked' problem,” says Claire Belcher, professor and chair in wildland fire at the University of Exeter. “There is no single cause and no single solution, and they require a shift in our thought patterns. Climate change is a large forcing factor in regards to these fires, but it is not the only cause, and facing it is not the only solution.” And although the number of wildfires has increased in recent decades, historically some human activities have helped curtail the concentration of blazes. “By creating cropland, and having fairly intense grazing that removes all the biomass, you are also removing the fuel,” says Prentice. No one is going to suggest large-scale deforestation as a potential solution to wildfires any time soon. But on the other hand, indiscriminate reforestation could also pose a problem. “Many governments are keen on the idea of resolving climate change by planting trees—but, you know, trees can burn,” says Prentice. As well as a wicked problem, wildfires are also be fiendishly difficult to predict. We know that global warming increases the likelihood of fires—but we need more evidence before concluding the reverse too. This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. Source: Australia’s Wildfires Might Intensify Future Climate Crises (Wired)
  25. What’s causing Australia’s devastating fire weather? From climate trends to Indian Ocean temperature patterns. Enlarge / Smoke billows from fires around Canberra. NASA / EO An absolutely astonishing set of bushfires is burning around Australia currently, producing surreal images like those of evacuees fleeing to beaches—or boats—for safety. The situation has been particularly dangerous in Victoria and New South Wales, where fires have surrounded Sydney, choking the air with smoke. So much smoke, in fact, that even New Zealand has been significantly impacted by it over 2,000 kilometers away. So far, almost 15 million acres of land have burned. For comparison, California's nightmare 2018 fire season burned around 2 million acres. Unfortunately, the weather has yet to turn helpful, although there are some encouraging signs for the near future. Saturday, specifically, saw worsening conditions, and Victoria activated emergency powers for the first time amidst ongoing evacuations. Enlarge / Most recent map of active fires in Australia. MyFireWatch So what has been driving these fires to such extremes? Obviously, it's the trio of hot, dry, and windy, but these conditions are occurring due to a combination of long-term trends and short-term weather patterns. First the long-term context. Last year was both the hottest and driest on record for Australia, extending a drought. Like the rest of the world, Australia's temperatures are climbing to ever-higher records as the climate warms, which boosts evaporation and strengthens droughts in situations like this. Rainfall trends are less clear, but declines have been partly attributed to climate change for at least some regions. On December 18, Australia saw the nation's hottest day on record, hitting an average of nearly 42°C (over 107°F). That eclipsed the previous record, set just one day earlier. Besides the long-term warming trend, a couple of factors have been responsible. Although Australia's climate is closely linked to the El Niño Southern Oscillation in the Pacific Ocean, that particular seesaw has been in a neutral state. There is another, similar oscillation in the Indian Ocean, however, called the Indian Ocean Dipole, which has been in a strongly positive phase recently. That means that waters in the western Indian Ocean have been warmer than average, with cooler temperatures to the east. This has the effect of pushing rainy weather away from Australia. Indian Ocean surface temperatures above and below average in November 2019. BOM And in the last few months, an unusual pattern in the Antarctic stratosphere has weakened the pole-circling winds. That has also helped produce clear skies in Australia as well as strong westerly winds blowing dry air seaward over Victoria and New South Wales—stoking the fires. On Saturday, a cold front passed through southeastern Australia and reached the Sydney area in the evening. That may sound like a welcome reprieve, but it came with strong winds at the end of a very hot day—temperatures outside Sydney went as high as 48.9°C (120°F). The winds also shifted from westerly to southerly, pushing the fires in a different direction. The forecast ahead of Saturday's weather. The good news is that the Indian Ocean Dipole has relaxed into a neutral state in the past week, which is clearing the way for Australia's monsoon season to begin in the northern part of the country. Some areas in the south are set to see a little bit of rain soon, as well. That may help, but there's no end to the fire conditions in the forecast yet. Source: What’s causing Australia’s devastating fire weather? (Ars Technica)
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